A company has started making chicken nuggets from chickens that are still alive

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It’s a sad but inevitable consequence of eating meat that lots of cute animals have to die in the process. Obviously, we’d love it if little piglets, fluffy lambs and gambling, doe-eyed calves didn’t have to kick the bucket for the rest of us to enjoy something delicious, but this is an unavoidable fact of meat eating. It’s not as if you can just hack a leg off and leave the rest of the animal intact until the next time you feel hungry. That would probably be even worse than our current approach. All of which makes the news that scientists are making nuggets from still living chickens all the more disturbing.

As sinister as it might sound, this latest development in nugget tech is actually significantly less bloodthirsty than you’d think. Rather than slowly slicing off bits of breast from baffled birds, researchers and chefs have harnessed the magic of meat of culturing to create an ethical alternative unlike anything else on the market. Thanks to their work, we could be about to enter the era of slaughter-free meat.

Using cells extracted from a chicken feather - plucked from a still-living bird on a California poultry farm - the team at “Just” have managed to manufacture real life chicken nuggets without killing any animals. The San Francisco food tech company have recently revealed that, through a complex and carefully monitored process, they are able to encourage cells to grow into chicken meat, whilst the animal from which they originate continues to enjoy life away from the abattoir.

According to a recent report from the BBC, it “takes about two days to produce a chicken nugget in a small bioreactor, using a protein to encourage the cells to multiply, some type of scaffold to give structure to the product and a culture, or growth, medium to feed the meat as it develops.” The end result is nothing like normal “meat-substitutes”, but is real, 100% chicken meat manufactured in a completely different and radical way.

The idea of slaughter-free alternative proteins has been gathering steam since 2013, when scientist Mark Post sold the first every fully lab-based hamburger in 2013 for around $300,000. Technology has since come on leaps and bounds, with big name investors such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson piling money into the project. Just’s new nugget breakthrough is just the latest event that shows the progress being made.

It’s no surprise that many in the scientific community are excited about the prospects for lab-grown meats. Most scientists now agree that the increasing demand for animal products around the world could have dire consequences, both for our health and the health of the planet. Given that around 70 billion animals are slaughtered for food every year around the world, finding an alternative seems like a sensible solution.

Nonetheless, despite the supposed benefits of the new technology, not everyone has been eager to jump on board. Questions remain over the taste and texture of the new product, which is apparently “softer” than what you might expect from a normal nugget, according to the BBC. There is also scepticism among the farmers who rely on meat production as a way of life, and for whom the introduction of a viable competitor could have serious consequences.

Whatever the future holds for our meat, it seems clear that we’re moving beyond the time where we need to nurture and raise animals in order to get what we need from them. As cellular biotech continues to advance, the  number of potential products on the menu is only going to grow. How willing we are to try them remains to be seen.